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January 19, 2014

Moron Movie Review: Lone Survivor

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." ~ Robert E. Lee

LoneSurvivor.jpg

The film in one word: Intense

My Moron recommendation: 5 Ewoks. It's a must-see!

But first some background, in order to properly frame the review.

I first met Marcus Luttrell in 2008. We brought him up to Boston for a fundraiser for my son's autism school, which had just moved to a much larger location. Funds were critical to getting it up and running, with the big auction item at the event being naming rights to the playground that was on the drawing board.

I didn't really think the tie-in would work that well - it's Boston not Beaumont, and what does a Navy SEAL's experience have to do with working with kids with autism anyway? - but, hey, the book was a best-seller at the time and the school was founded by a Navy brat, so what the hell?

The house was packed to listen to Marcus speak, and speak he did, relaying the tale of the lone survivor. Hearing him tell the story in person, at points pantomiming an imaginary M4 in his hands as he's describing the firefight, made a lasting impression on everyone in the room including my little brother, now a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, who I brought up from Georgia to meet Marcus.

Before the program started we talked a little about the movie, which was just at the concept stage at that point. Marcus was concerned that any movie wouldn't do justice to his teammates and the story. It took nearly 6 years from then, and the film went through fits and starts of casting and funding, but the ultimate outcome couldn't have been a better tribute to the memories of his fallen brothers.

***SPOILERS BELOW***


The Movie

One of the complaints about the film you'll see from Professional Movie Critics is the shallowness of character development. And that’s a fair criticism if you view the film through the eyes of a naïve audience that knows nothing about the story and also can't get quickly up to speed.

But in a film divided neatly into three parts: pre-firefight, firefight, rescue, there’s only so much time to get to know the characters, and I think they did a good job with it in broad strokes. Before Spartan 01 boards the helicopters bound for Kunar, you get the idea that they’re highly motivated and trained (opening footage of SEAL training), have people they love back home and want to return to (instant messaging, etc.) and are a tight-knit group (induction of new team member SO2 Shane Patton).

Character status: DEVELOPED

My only critique in this area is that, other than LCDR Erik Kristensen and SO2 Patton, we never really meet the rest of the SEALs like SO2 James Suh and others who died in the helicopter crash and are mentioned in the book. Limitations of time and all, but I wish they’d been able to put the spotlight on everyone (including the Army’s 160th SOAR helicopter crew), however briefly.

Because the movie focuses so much on the firefight, the pacing is rushed to get there. But, man, when you get there …

The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass did a great job of talking about “realism” in war movies (well, actually his father did):

Like many of you, I'd heard the buzz about "Lone Survivor," with some early reviews talking about the realism, although how the hell would they know? Realism in a war movie? My father had an answer when we'd ask him to watch a war movie on TV.

"Put on Bob Hope," he'd say, mentioning a comedian of another age.

My father spent almost a decade fighting, first in World War II, in the Albanian mountains in the snow against the Italians and the Germans. He survived the Nazi occupation when the Germans forced starvation of Athens. Then came more fighting in the terrible civil war against the communist guerrillas in Greece.

So after that, he wasn't remotely interested in war movies. If you told him a war movie was supposed to be "realistic," he'd just look at you, or look through you. Once he said that if a war movie was truly realistic, then you could smell it. And it doesn't smell like popcorn.

Well said. I'll remember that.

Within the limitations of the medium, though, you can attempt to envision what it would be like to be in the position of Spartan 01 as they’re relentlessly attacked by a force anywhere from 5x to 50x their strength on their home turf (another of the silliest controversies about the book and movie … you don’t stop to take roll when the bullets are flying).

Until Lone Survivor, the Normandy invasion scene in Saving Private Ryan stood alone as the best justice the medium can do to conveying actual combat. It now at least has company, and I’ll leave it up to you to argue about which is better.

And if I made my living with words instead of numbers, I’d have written that Kass column, because he sums up well my thoughts on the reasons people must see this movie. Read the whole thing.

The film isn’t a documentary, and there’s a lot of dramatic license employed at both the beginning and the end. If you know the book, these things will jump out at you, but you shouldn’t let them take you out of the film.

Fortunately, the firefight scene is pretty true to the book, although it’s a little dramatized too. And it’s hard to forget that it’s condensed in time, because it feels like it goes on forever. Which is part of the point.

The Tapper Interview

I guess this review wouldn’t be complete without a review of the review that had everyone buzzing last week.

I think Jake Tapper’s one of the fairest guys you’ll find in the media (yes, I'm aware phrasing it that way could be seen as damning him with faint praise) and I don’t believe he meant any insult by his comments to Marcus at all. They just point out a difference in the way people view the world, and instead of screaming about it, we should find it instructive.

Most of the attention was focused on Tapper’s use of the word “senseless” to describe the deaths of the SEALs and SOAR guys, but I want to focus on the word that got Marcus’ back up against the wall in the first place: “Hopeless”

TAPPER: One of the emotions I felt while watching the film is, first of all, just the hopelessness of the situation, how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life of these brave American men. And I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don't want any more senseless American death and at the same time I know that there are dead people there and good people who need help. Was that intentional?

LUTTRELL: Well, I don't know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness really ever came into it. Where did you see that? We never felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing unless we were actually dead. That never came across in the battle and while we were fighting on the mountain and it was just us against them.

At the fundraiser I mentioned above, Marcus signed a copy of the book and wrote the following message to my son:

The world is yours, my friend. Never quit and never give up!

The situation Tapper described as “hopeless” … long odds against you, no clear path to victory in sight, little help coming from outside and the people to your left and right who love you being all you can truly depend on … applies to my son’s severe autism as well as to Spartan 01. As it turned out, there was a tie-in after all.

In the face of adversity, you can lie down and quit or you can stand and fight. The choice you make says a lot about who you are.

The film is a tribute to men who stood and fought. I don't know what movie Jake Tapper was watching either.

And as to "senseless" deaths, I hope we haven't reached the point where we regard every US soldier lost in a battle won as dying a good and noble death while regarding those lost in losing efforts as dying senselessly.

Tapper's exit to the interview noted defects in the mission plan and errors made on the parts of many people involved in Operation Red Wings that contributed to the bad outcome. I wonder how he'd have characterized Operation Overlord if cock-ups like the DD Tanks' performance at Omaha Beach, the scattered drops of Airborne units and failure to anticipate how badly the bocage would bog down our tanks had resulted in the invasion being repelled. I've never heard the first D-Day death referred to as being "senseless".

The nobility of our troops' efforts are not judged by whether they won or lost this battle or that. And all who died ... who gave the last full measure of devotion, as Lincoln said ... deserve our respect and gratitude.

Final Thoughts

John Kass summed up his thoughts as follows:

Whether it wins any film prizes is irrelevant. Such honors are about cliques and politics. At the awards ceremony, the stars stand on the red carpet and talk about what they're wearing, how they're feeling. They hold up that shiny golden statue. They chatter. They're validated. Celebrity writers prattle on about the after-parties.

But this movie is something apart from all that chatter. This one has quality.

I suppose you can wait to see it at home when it comes out on cable. You can tell yourself that your big screen and sound system can faithfully reproduce the theater experience. But it can't reproduce this:

At the end, with the photos of the fallen up there, you turn. Just then some other theater patron looks up and catches your eye. You notice each other, strangers in the movie-house darkness, and there is a mutual recognition of a debt.

We owe them.

The audience at the showing I saw sat absolutely silent through the credits, which show photos and video of the SEALs and SOAR guys who died in Operation Red Wings.

And then we applauded.

Related

Books: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,
Seal of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN

Movie: Murph: The Protector

Charities: Lone Survivor Foundation, The Boot Campaign

And if you want to donate to the best autism program in the country ... the one with a playground named "Spartan Playground" by Marcus Luttrell ... Nashoba Learning Group.

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posted by Andy at 09:34 AM

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